Thumbs all the way up

Emma Hansen, Online Editor

John Green is back with his new book, Turtles All the Way Down. After the smash-hit that was The Fault in Our Stars, Green had some pretty big shoes to fill.

And he did– but not in the way that one would have expected.

In his new book, Green focuses on 16-year-old Aza Holmes who suffers from the intrusive thoughts of her anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Both of these mental illnesses take form in her germophobic fear of the “microbiome” that lives inside her, which was a main concern of hers throughout the novel.

Green starts off slowly in the book, and the first few chapters seem to drag on for the reader. It’s just a whole lot of introduction and backstory on the characters, which is a necessary evil to go through so that the reader can understand what’s going on before he rolls into the story.

As I started reading, it felt more like a Scooby Doo mystery than a John Green novel. A $100,000 reward is up for grabs to anyone that can give the police information on the whereabouts of Russell Pickett, a fugitive billionaire that skips town before the police can come bust him for fraud and bribery. Aza used to be friends with the billionaire’s son, Davis, because they went to Sad Camp, a “camp for kids with dead parents,” together.

Aza hasn’t spoken to Davis since their brief time together at Sad Camp, and she isn’t very excited to call him now that his dad is missing. She is eventually convinced to go talk to him by her dramatic best friend, Daisy. Thus, our story begins.

Turtles All the Way Down was a refreshing change from the usual John Green formula – quirky white boy narrator meets mysterious white girl love interest and together they undergo a journey of love, humor, and self-discovery.

To start off, there was very little humor in the book. There was little to no comic relief to break up Aza’s dark “thought spirals.” While I was expecting the book to be funnier, I’m glad it didn’t make a joke out of mental illness. Green serves his readers well by not minimizing Aza’s problems with cheap jokes.

The next part of our formula, romance. While the love story was a fairly big part of the book, it was not the main focus. Green chose to center the book on Aza, her anxiety and OCD, and the mystery of Russell Pickett over the short, and bittersweet relationship between Aza and Davis, which made it feel much more personal and less like a stereotypical young adult novel.

Even though Turtles All the Way Down didn’t meet the first two points of humor and romance, it was focused on self-discovery. Aza’s narration was extremely introspective and often included conversations with between her and her OCD. It would go back and forth between the rational part of her brain and the part that was terrified of the hundreds of germs around her.

Turtles All the Way Down was probably the hardest John Green book to read just because of its difficult subject matter. Green handled it well though and didn’t use much comic relief to break up the serious parts, which was a good change from his other books. Mental illness isn’t a fun subject and Green embraced that fact.

Another one of the key points in Turtles All the Way Down was to not focus on “fixing yourself” or getting better for someone else. In one scene, Aza specifically tells her mother that she can’t get better for her. She can’t focus on healing just to give her mother some peace of mind because it puts too much pressure on her. She needs to do this for herself.

It is very obvious that Green writes from experience in this book, from the way he describes Aza’s view of the world to the millions of thoughts running through her head at all times. He gives a lovely insight into the mind of someone who suffers from anxiety and OCD while also crafting an intricate and heart-breaking story.